As well as other things taking shape in my life I’m also enrolled on a writing course, for which I have to submit exercises as well as sections of my novel for review. Each exercise is marked in isolation, so it’s great for giving me the freedom and discipline to write hyper-fiction (self-contained stories less than 1000 words in length).
One weekday lunchtime at work (i.e. in an hour) I wrote “The Naivety of Youth”, a first draft of a story that places sensory experience at the heart of scene setting.
While not the finished article, I wanted to make a point of how important regular breaks are. I hear so often people say that they’re either too busy or they simply don’t know what to do with themselves so don’t take the time out.
In the UK you are entitled, by law, to an unpaid break by your employer (length dependant on your contracted hours). Don’t squander the opportunity to look after your mental health, if I can write the below in an hour, then there’s no excuse! You’d be amazed what you can achieve in even thirty minutes.
Declan landed three hard knocks on the chipped plywood door. The sound bounded around the room behind, a hollow chamber of noise swiftly chased by the crackled voice of the flat’s tenant.
‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’
There was the jingle of a chain and a shunt of a bolt before the old woman pulled the door open ajar to greet her visitor.
‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Declan, I recently moved into the flat a next door…’
‘What are you selling?’
‘I’m not selling anything, I just…’
‘Then why didn’t you ring the doorbell?
Declan glanced to the left. The doorbell of which the lady referred to was caked in deep dirt and grime, he hadn’t even been aware of its existence.
‘I tried but it didn’t work,’ he lied. ‘Thing is, I’ve been relocated here and I don’t know anyone. Can I come in? I’ve got some leftover cake from work.’ He lifted the cheap blue bag, its colour imposing on the dark brown corridor it swung against.
The old lady looked the man up and down several times and eyed up the bag before grumbling and permitting Declan inside. Using her walking stick for support, she waddled across the square room and flicked on a light switch before approaching Declan and making a gesture at the bag. He politely handed it into her vicious grasp that made the plastic scrunch up in recoiled submission. As she headed toward the kitchenette Declan decided to make himself more comfortable and placed a hand on a sofa that faced an old box TV set.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?’
‘Ruby!’ Came the muffled response. The lady was too busy staring into an empty cupboard.
‘It’s a…err…nice place you’ve got here…’ Declan lowered himself onto the collapsed sofa, his bum tensing and reshuffling momentarily when he happened upon a broken spring.
‘Don’t try softening me up, boy, I know it’s a dump.’
Ruby placed the half-eaten cake on the stained coffee table and shoved a plate into the hands of Declan. Even though it had the appearance of being clean it still felt sticky beneath his fingers.
‘Is this what you call a welcome gift?’
‘Well, I did say it was the leftovers from work.’
‘You never said such thing!’
‘I’m sure I did?’
‘Are you calling me a liar now?’ Ruby took the cake knife and jabbed it toward Declan. Declan instinctively jolted backwards in such speed the firm backboard of the chair cracked with the impact. Ruby cackled at the scene just as Declan bent forward in pain.
‘I’m not gonna stab you! Young people, so gullible…’
‘I’m thirty-four years old.’
‘You’re young,’ Ruby said decisively. ‘Now, eat this cake I’ve made you.’
Declan decided to not challenge Ruby’s assertion, deciding that acceptance was an easier path to take. As he bit into the stale sweetness of the baked item he became aware of how dry the air was in the space between he and Ruby. It sucked whatever moisture was in his throat, it burned at his eyes. When he helped himself to the water jug he found the result even worse; the chemically treated liquid tasted of metal mixed with cleaning fluid as it fell down his gullet in haste. The air dried where the water scorched, the two worked in unison to make the effects of the other worse.
It was when Declan stopped to look at Ruby that he realised the old woman hadn’t said a word this entire time, nor had she tasted the cake. Instead she’d quietly sat in her faded floral armchair; knife resting on lap, an unnatural smile playing on her lips.
‘Do you like the cake?’
Declan suddenly fell to the floor, scrabbling at the stained beige carpet. With his knuckles he pushed back the rag rug and saw for the first time large red patches of stained blood under it. As he gasped and spluttered Ruby kicked him back so the rug returned to its rightful place.
‘I keep a tight ship around here, boy, one of which being the importance of keeping the flat next door clear of people like you.’
Declan tried to utter a response, a plea, but nothing came out.
The frail, tiny lady towered over Declan, watching and observing his slow demise. It was only sometime later a clanging buzz pieced the stillness of the room.
‘Open up!’ Boomed the deep voice.
Ruby looked from the direction of the noise back to Declan’s tangled body. The corpse’s blood had started dribbling from his nose, falling onto the carpet with a muted pat, pat.
‘I told you,’ she stated flatly. ‘You should have rung the doorbell.’